The U.S. influencer marketing industry will reach up to $10 billion by 2020, according to Bloglovin' research. While some brands have seen success with endorsements from celebrities with hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of followers, these partnerships can cost brands a pretty penny. Bloggers, micro-influencers and experts in specific fields may be a better investment, particularly for brands just starting to test influencer marketing campaigns.
Although these influencers don't have millions of followers, they often are more impactful due to their small yet highly engaged followings. Consider this: just 3% of consumers are influenced by celebrity endorsements, according to research from Collective Bias. Conversely, 30% of consumers are more likely to buy a product that a non-celebrity blogger recommends. These bloggers are also 10 times more likely to influence an in-store purchase than a celebrity.
- Look for the perfect match;
- Test different channels and tactics;
- Give influencers creative freedom;
- Stress authenticity; and
- Don’t be afraid of influencers speaking out on potentially controversial issues.
“Influencers work hard to build a dedicated and engaged community,” noted Karyn Ravin, President of Maletzky Media and presenter of Babypalooza NYC, in a follow-up interview with Retail TouchPoints. “When they speak about a brand on their platforms they often can reach a brand’s targeted consumer in a much more authentic and meaningful way.”
While the panel was tailored to bloggers looking to build their businesses, there were several best practices uncovered within the discussion that brands could apply as they build and refine their influencer strategies.
- Look for a perfect match: Watch brand Armitron is successfully building an influencer marketing strategy that's built on real relationships. Rather than partnering with an influencer solely for her recognition or large following, Armitron focuses on aligning with bloggers and influencers that are relatable and align with the brand identity.
"We work with influencers because we believe they're very powerful," said Rachel Fredman, Director of Public Relations and Communications at E. Gluck Corporation, the parent company of Armitron. "But we try to talk to influencers and get to know them, and try to work with influencers who are consistent in their tone and style and have a clear identity. They know who they are as a brand."
- Don't be afraid to test different channels and tactics: 10 years ago, bloggers and influencers had very few channels to create and share content. Now bloggers can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube to share their personal thoughts, feelings and recommendations. However, both brands and influencers should measure and analyze their campaigns to ensure they're investing in the most effective channels and tactics.
"We're constantly trying to provide blog, social and web content that resonates with our audience,” said Fredman. “We use analytics to get information about what our customers are responding to, and we also are in tune with comments, and what people are liking. We recently did a YouTube campaign and it really resonated well with our audience. The results were tremendous, so we learned that we should do more video in the future."
- Give influencers creative freedom: As part of their partnerships, brands and retailers often share recommended posts, talking points and hashtags that influencers can share in their posts and blogs. However, consumers are becoming savvier and can quickly identify sponsored content.
"If you can sniff out what's fake, people can sniff it out with you," said CeCe Olisa, a lifestyle blogger and creative consultant who moderated the panel. "Don't be afraid to commit to authenticity, even if it means not working with a brand."
Tiffany Ish, founder of the lifestyle blog "I am Style-ish," agreed, noting that brands are realizing this and, in turn, are rethinking their influencer agreements: "Brands are learning that they should be working with influencers, rather than giving them assignments," she explained. "It's a more collaborative experience, which makes it more authentic."
- Authenticity is key: Consumers gravitate to bloggers and influencers who have stories, experiences and perspectives that speak to them on a deeper level. Brands should take a similar approach by partnering with people who have similar core values and are always authentic in their content.
"The most successful bloggers are sharing their authentic voice and saying the things that are hard, or even scary to say," said Rebecca Dube, who is an editor for the Today Show's parenting blog. "Finding your authentic voice means finding your community and, by extension, finding your power."
- Don't be afraid of speaking out on social causes: In the past, brands were encouraged to stay out of politics and keep mum on social issues. But recent research from Sprout Social reveals that 66% of consumers want brands to engage in social and political issues. The best channel for getting involved? Social media. Brands and influencers alike should see this shift as an opportunity to find and promote causes that matter to them most and, most of all, to find partners that have similar beliefs.
"[Bloggers and influencers] think that brands don't want us to speak out on social issues, so we don't post about them," noted Margaret Wheeler Johnson, Director of Features and Brand Initiatives at Bustle. "Then, brands think we're okay with not posting about these social issues and it's a continuous cycle. But if you do state how you feel on a controversial issue, some followers may fight but your audience also goes up. Your audience trusts you a lot more and you should be more appealing to a brand because your audience is actually more engaged."
Influencer marketing as an art and science is still evolving, but it’s evident that transparency and authenticity will remain the bedrock of an effective strategy.